Monday, June 24, 2024

Meet Lincoln Co. Commissioner candidate Brian Phillips

| May 28, 2024 7:00 AM

Name: Brian Phillips

Age: 53

Family: I am married to Heidi, my wife of 14 years.  We have a blended family of six children between us, two of whom live here in the Tobacco Valley.

Occupation: I am a retired Border Patrol Agent with almost 25 years of service. I have 10 years of Navy service, active and reserve, as a Seabee. I was a farrier and blacksmith before joining the Border Patrol.

Community involvement: I am a board member with Big Hearts Open Arms, a local non-profit. I spend a lot of time with my 5-year-old grandson and our horses and cattle.

The county has received $12 million in Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency funds in the last two fiscal years. What do you think the county should use the money for?

From, “As a general matter, recipients may treat these funds in a similar manner to how they treat funds generated from their own revenue.”

Operating on the premise that this money has not already been factored into the budget; for the short term these are several ideas.

I think one of the first things Lincoln County should invest in is a dedicated grant writer. I am not a grant writer, nor am I particularly experienced in the field. I find it hard to believe that there is not an organization out there that would be willing to fund things like the library or other social programs. I think a good grant writer should be able find these resources as well as fund their own position. I know a salaried grant writer would be a very small part of $12M but it would be a continuing return on investment. I also know that Lincoln County cannot budgetarily operate on grants alone, but a dedicated grant writer would initially act as a stop gap until the budget can be stabilized; and thereafter be able to bring unexpected/unplanned monies to the county.

The county roads are in generally rough condition despite the dedication and hard work of the road crews. I am sure some unbudgeted money could always be spent on roads.

The library is currently a hot topic issue.  I would imagine that a portion of $12M, unassigned dollars could certainly be put to good community use in the form of library funding. 

Although the ultimate decision rests with the commissioners, community input will always be welcome when dealing with unallocated funds. Citizen engagement with their government is one of my highest priorities. The next great idea might be a phone call, e-mail or text message away.

After these initial expenditures, I would suggest consulting with a financial planner and putting the balance into high yield funds to reap the benefits of the interest.  

Do you feel the county’s problems with elections in the last several years are about integrity or human error?

My understanding of the recent election issues is that they originated when Lincoln County changed their ballot printing company. The new vendor made an error in the placement of the perforations for the primary election which would not allow them to be tabulated mechanically. This resulted in a hand count, that was paid for by the vendor.

Subsequently in the general election, the ballots were correctly printed and counted mechanically through the tabulator machine. The state mandated an audit of several ballot boxes to confirm that the tabulator worked correctly. This is a standard practice that was not connected to the primary hand count in any manner. It is my understanding that the tabulator machines are not connected to the internet or any other “outside” connection; they are standalone machines.

I think the genesis of the issues was the human error on the part of the new company printing the ballots. This initial error was then compounded by a lack of understanding of the difference between a “hand count” and an “audit.” After having spoken to both the Lincoln County and Montana State Election Administrators, I am confident that significant election fraud is not occurring in either Lincoln County or the State of Montana.

What should the county’s plan be when and if illegal squatting becomes a bigger problem?

The legal idea of “squatters rights” in America originates with the original settlers and westward expansion. People would put down roots, build infrastructure and hopefully thrive on land they believed to be unclaimed. Years later someone who had never seen this property could acquire a title to the land having never been there. These “owners” would send a representative to evict the homesteaders that may have been there for decades, improving the land. These homesteaders were often granted “squatters rights” for having been there first and improving the land claimed by the “absentee” owner.

Montana, on both county and state levels, needs to get in front of this issue now and strengthen private property owner’s rights through legislative means. The State of Florida seems to be a leading entity in this type of action. We need to work with our state legislature to enact these type of owner’s rights.

What other issues should the county address?

One of the things I feel strongly about is transparency. I believe that it does not simply happen.   Transparency must be intentional. It can be burdensome, but it is owed to the community. This leads to citizen engagement. When the citizens know what is happening, good and bad, they are empowered to participate in government. This leads to government BY the people, one of the basic tenants of our Republic.